Self-Published Saturday: Leora’s Dexter Stories

Self-Published Saturday is my effort to help Indie and Self-Published authors with one of the most difficult tasks they have to do–marketing. Indie authors have to do it all, from cover design to editing, marketing, and more. If I can help even a little bit with the marketing, I’m happy to do it. This week’s feature is the wonderful Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression. the second in the Leora Series. This is the story of an American family struggling through the depression in rural Iowa.

BOOK DESCRIPTION

The undertow of the Great Depression becomes poignantly personal as we experience the travails of Leora and Clabe Wilson, a displaced Iowa farm family. Gritty determination fuels this family’s journey of loss and hope, a reflection of what many American families endured during those challenging times.

In this true story the Wilsons slowly slide into unemployment and poverty. Leora must find ways to keep her dreams alive while making a haven for her flock of seven children in one run-down house after another.

BOOK REVIEW

This is a wonderful true story of a family of tenant farmers struggling to survive during the depression years in Iowa. Spanning from about 1927 to 1942, we follow the family as they move from farm to farm, working hard to make ends meet and put food on the table. At the same time, we learn the history of a country as it falls into the Great Depression and then tries to rise out of it. We watch the Wilson family suffer hunger, sickness, and heartbreaking loss in a time of great hardship. We watch them go from farming to odd jobs to unemployment, working hard and finding a way to survive.

When the two oldest go off to join the Navy, they put the family on their shoulders instead of leaving them behind, sending money to help keep them warm and fed. The mother, Leora Wilson, who was not allowed to go to high school, gets to see her children graduate against great odds. Through memoirs, letters, photos, and newspaper articles, we follow this family as they learn of the New Deal, finally accept some help from the government, and eventually go off to war. And through it all, we realize that despite their lack of money, they are rich in love, loyalty, grit, and fortitude. This saga of a family and a country speaks in detail of a way of life that no longer exists and documents it for all time. It is a part of American history that should not be missed.

I downloaded a copy of this book on Kindle Unlimited, where subscribers can read it for free.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (In Her Own Words)

Joy Neal Kidney


I am the keeper of family stories, letters, pictures, research, combat records, casualty reports, and terrible telegrams. Active on several history and military Facebook pages, I help administer local ones–Audubon County, Dallas County, and Guthrie County, Iowa–the places where my motherline stories originated, as well as Depression Era Iowa. 

Born two days before D-Day to an Iowa farmer who became an Army Air Corps pilot, then an instructor–with orders for combat when the war ended–and an Iowa waitress who lost three of her five brothers during that war. I spent my childhood in an Iowa farmhouse with a front porch. Now I live with my husband, a Vietnam veteran, in a suburban house with a front porch.

I’ve published two books (“Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II” and “Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression.”) I’m a regular contributor to Our American Stories. 

Awards: 2021 Great American Storyteller Award by Our American Stories and WHO NEWSRADIO 1040

2021 – First place Our Iowa Stories award named for Joy Neal Kidney.

BUY LEORA’S DEXTER STORIES ON AMAZON

*If you buy the book(s), please leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, as well as anywhere else you review books.  Some people feel very daunted by writing a review. Don’t worry. You do not have to write a masterpiece. Just a couple of lines about how the book made you feel will make the author’s day and help the book succeed. The more reviews a book has, the more Amazon will promote it.

*Please click on the “share” buttons below and share these books with your Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress followers. A little bit of help from all of us will help self-published authors go a long way!

Book Review and Q&A: Winter Solstice by Diana Howard. Don’t miss the bonus poem! #Poetry #Dementia #Alzheimer’s

Winter Solstice is a beautiful and heartbreaking poetic account of the end of life journey of the author’s mother, who was losing her memory. This made my heart ache because I went through this with my Dad as well, and watched him eventually forget us due to Dementia. It is a tough thing to experience, but Diana Howard writes about this sad journey with honesty, truth, and compassion.

Some of the poems in this collection compare this condition to nature and the winter season, and some are very matter-of-fact accounts of the effects of this disease. All of them will speak to somebody who has been affected by this in one way or another.

Anyone who has lost a loved one to Alzheimer’s or Dementia will identify with this heartfelt and very candid poetic account of a long and agonizing loss of a parent.

I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley. My review is voluntary.

Q&A WITH DIANA HOWARD (With a bonus poem from the author!)

Winter Solstice was of course inspired by your Mother’s battle with dementia.  I also lost a parent and grandparent to dementia and I want to express my deepest condolences.   Was it difficult to write about or did writing help you process it all?

I think what was difficult was watching and experiencing my mother’s decline yet having very little understanding (especially early on) of what was happening to her and what she could and could not comprehend. Of course, every day was different, but I felt desperately sad for her and powerless to help her. Writing about it was comforting for me and it helped me personalize it in a way that gave her as much dignity and peace as was possible.

In some of your poems in this book, such as Winter SolsticeTaking Refuge, and Losing Memory, you related your mother’s dementia to nature, specifically the winter season.  It is actually a perfect analogy.  How were you first inspired to relate your mother’s passing to nature in this way?

Growing up, nature was a large part of my experiences with my parents. Hunting for morel mushrooms every spring with my dad, and looking for bittersweet in the woods with my mom in the fall. We went camping every summer and played outdoors always. I grew to love the sound of birds and also the wisdom they presented  through a pair of binoculars. By the time I started writing seriously, in my late 30’s, nature seemed the perfect metaphor for so many things.

Were you writing these poems as everything was happening in real time or from memory later?

The answer to this question is both. “Departure” for example was written on a plane flying home from seeing my mom a year before she died. (I lived 10 hours away) “Taking Refuge” was written when I traveled to see my mom when she still lived in her own home but was hospitalized with abdominal issues. I could see while she was in the hospital and out of her normal familiar setting, that she was struggling more than I realized. It was still another year before we actually moved her into assisted care.

Let’s talk about the grief process.  For myself, I found I was already grieving my Dad when he began to forget me.  I realized after his death I was already very far along in the grief process. How has the process evolved for you?

Pretty much as you describe. I was the oldest daughter, the one designated to care for her. Even though I couldn’t do that physically because i was so far away, i definitely did it emotionally, until she could no longer comprehend, and then I still did it anyway. My two brothers and sister were also wonderful with her. I was lucky in that regard that they did what they could as well.

Many of the poems came out of the grief i was feeling and from the lonely powerless feeling that engulfed me so often. (Did I mention guilt??? I always left her. struggling to remind myself that  I am doing the best I can and also what was right for me.

I love that you spoke of the realities of having dementia in such a forthright way.  Those of us who have experienced this with loved ones will identify immediately with your words.  I also think that those who are about to go through this with their loved ones will be helped by your candid description of the realities of this harsh disease.  When you wrote Winter Solstice, did you realize the extent to which it could be of great help to others?

I didn’t realize it while I was going through it, but after she died I looked over volumes of pages of writing that I did and thought to myself, maybe I could help someone not feel so alone as they spend years saying goodbye to a loved one. Maybe I could help them with their sadness, their anger and frustration, their coping with the real challenges that occur.

What is the most important thing you want others to take away from your book?

I would hope that they would feel less alone knowing that others are going through the same thing. Even though everyone’s journey is a bit different, the key symptoms of the disease are the same. Here is a poem that is not in the book. I actually wrote it this past summer thinking that I might use it when giving a talk about my book – I’m sure it will resonate with you as it does with me.  

Facing Dementia

I want to tell you
what not to do
how not to respond
where not to go.

I learned the hard way.

I want to say it doesn’t get easier.
It will take vicious turns
be unforgiving 
break your heart.

I learned the hard way.

I want to explain how it
steals personality
taunts intellect
preys on a sinking lucidity,

that any thought
of rescue or reasoning
will fail miserably
punishing you in your dreams.

You will learn the hard way.

Diana Howard©️2021

In closing, I just wanted to say that your poem Losing Memory really spoke to me because it’s such a great analogy comparing the loss of memory to a blizzard, and I can sadly imagine my loved one wandering, trying to find those memories again, only to have them wiped away by bitter winds. It actually made me realize I still feel the sting of those bitter winds sometimes, almost three years after my Dad passed. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this terrible disease with the world.

Thanks so much, Bonnie!

COMMENT FROM BONNIE

*When I did the original QA questions, I didn’t know about the extra poem the author would be so gracious to send. I wanted to comment on it. It’s absolutely true. There is no way to reason with someone with dementia/Alzheimer’s, and no way to permanently rescue them. This condition and its effects will break your heart more than once .

Again, thank you Diana, for your wonderful answers and the new poem!

MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Author/Poet Diana Howard

Diana Howard is a poet and children’s author living in southeastern South Dakota. She began writing for children ten years ago. Her love of nature and animals influences her storytelling as she gives both voice and character to her subject matter.

BUY WINTER SOLSTICE

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Blog Tour and Book Review: The Cranberry Inn #Family #CountryInns #Bookouture #Christmasbooks

BOOK DESCRIPTION

A feel-good Christmas romance about fresh starts, the importance of family and learning how to follow your heart. Perfect for fans of Mary Alice Monroe, Rachel Hanna and Carolyn Brown.

As twinkling lights go up and snowflakes begin to fall, Laurel Hanover and her eight-year-old son are going home to the Cranberry Inn in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains. Laurel can’t wait to leave New York behind to help her father run the family business, and make snow angels with her son, even if it’s just for Christmas. But when she walks through the door, she’s shocked to find the inn in disrepair, and a letter saying her father will be gone until Christmas Eve…

No one in town knows where Laurel’s father is, and she doesn’t know whether to be worried or angry – but she won’t let the inn go under, and nothing will get in the way of the perfect Christmas for her son. Seeing the worn-out wooden bannisters, bare of festive lights, she immediately recruits her childhood friend, brooding local carpenter Joel Hutcherson. They might disagree on whether any walls actually need to come down, but each rip in the carpet makes Laurel more concerned for her father, and Joel is a welcome distraction. And when he admits that Laurel was his first crush, she realises she’s falling for him.

But then Laurel uncovers a card with beautiful, ornate writing amongst her father’s things and learns the real reason he disappeared. And it changes everything. Worse still, she thinks Joel knew the truth all along.

Laurel thought this was going to be the perfect Christmas – that maybe she had found her happy. But now there’s nothing to stop her from running back to New York the moment the baubles come down… is there?

BOOK REVIEW

This is a sweet Christmas story about family, memories, and moving forward. The characters are endearing and the story is heartwarming. The reader is transported to the Christmas season in a lovely mountain town where Laurel is trying to get the Inn ready for an unexpected guest, since her father has gone away on a mysterious trip. Memories of lost loved ones and coming back home again are major themes in this story. It is also about learning what you really want in life and having the courage to start over again. This is a book to enjoy with a good cup of coffee on a chilly day, while looking forward to your own holiday celebration. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good Christmas read.

I received a free copy of this book from Bookouture via Netgalley. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Barbara Josselsohn is an award-winning journalist and novelist who loves crafting stories about strong protagonists facing a fork in the road. Her novels center around second chances, family relationships and, of course, romance. She is the author of the Lake Summers series set in the fictional town of Lake Summers, nestled in the Adirondacks Mountains, which includes the books The Lilac House and The Bluebell Girls. Before joining with Bookouture, she published The Last Dreamer, a women’s-fiction novel from Lake Union Publishing, along with hundreds of articles and essays in major and regional publications about family, home and relationships. She lives just north of New York City and enjoys escaping to the beach or the mountains whenever she can. Other than writing, her biggest passion is her family: husband, her three kids, and her indefatigable shih-poo!


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*Kindle Unlimited Subscribers can read this book for free.

Book Review: The Wind Chime

This is the first of the books I reviewed for the November 2021 edition of Historical Novels Review Magazine, and it is one of my favorites. Historical Novel Society just made this book an Editor’s Choice.

I had to wait to share these with you, but now that it’s November 1st, I can start posting the reviews I wrote two to three months ago. Enjoy.

In Windsor, England, 2019, Amelia is completely without family, having lost her daughter and then her parents to serious illness.  Without any surviving relatives, she is adrift and contemplates selling the family home in Windsor.  When fulfilling the last request of her mother to clear out the attic, she finds some intriguing photographs of a large estate in Pembrokeshire featuring the Attwater family.  When Amelia uncovers the diary of Osyth Attwater, she realizes she may have discovered some family secrets.  

In Pembrokeshire, Wales, 1883, young Osyth Attwater is a dreamer and writer who awaits the gathering of the Attwaters, her storytelling family, at their oceanside mansion each year.  There is a wind chime in the garden that signals the arrival of relatives, and she greatly looks forward to the tales they will tell.  But then she overhears a conversation that will shatter her world.

This dual timeline novel of family secrets, fairy tales, missing pieces, and a special wind chime is both enchanting and compelling.  In their separate timelines, Osyth and Amelia both search for answers.  The theme of mental health, and how it was managed in 1883 versus the present, is explored.  The secrets that families keep and the reasons they keep them is examined in heartbreaking detail. The pace and flow of this book are gorgeous, and we are caught up in the beauty of Wales, the magic of fairytales, and the mystery of family secrets.  With Amelia, we piece together puzzling bits of family history and try to see the whole picture. The Wind Chime will engage all of your senses as you see the gorgeous Victorian mansion, feel the heartbreak, smell the ocean air,  taste the tears of grief, and hear the wind chime calling you home.  This is a soul-touching and captivating read.  Highly recommend.

I received a free copy of this book from Sapere Books via Historical Novels Review Magazine. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandra Walsh

From tales spun for her teddies when she was a child (usually about mermaids) to film scripts, plays and novels, Alexandra Walsh has always been a storyteller. Words are her world. For over 25 years, she has been a journalist writing for a wide range of publications including national newspapers and glossy magazines. She spent some years working in the British film industry, as well as in television and radio: researching, advising, occasionally presenting and always writing.

Books dominate Alexandra’s life. She reads endlessly and tends to become a bit panicky if her next three books are not lined up and waiting. Characters, places, imagery all stay with her and even now she finds it difficult to pass an old wardrobe without checking it for a door to Narnia. As for her magical letter when she was 11, she can only assume her cat caught the owl!

Alexandra’s other passion is history, particularly the untold tales of women. Whether they were queens or paupers, their voices resonate with their stories, not only about their own lives but about ours, too. The women of the Tudor court have inspired her novels. Researching and writing The Marquess House Trilogy (Book One: The Catherine Howard Conspiracy) has brought together her love of history, mysteries and story telling.

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Self-published Saturday: Travels and Tribulations

Self-Published Saturday (SPS) is my effort to help self-published and indie authors with the heavy task of marketing their books. Self-published authors have to do it all, from cover design to marketing and more. This is my effort to take a bit of that load and help promote their books. This week, we’re taking a look at a book of short stories by Tyrel Nelson based on his life and travels. Check out the review below. This will be my only SPS post today as I’m off to watch the grandbabies.

BOOK REVIEW

Travels and Tribulations is a collection of short stories by Tyrel Nelson about his life and travels. The stories are very well done and he has a way of pulling the reader into the adventure or emotion with him. 

One of my favorites in the collection is “Coming Around to Carnival.” We learn about the traditions in Ecuador of throwing water balloons or using squirt guns or other means to pelt each other with water during Carnival. Tired of getting wet, Tyrel travels to Ambata, Ecuador with a friend. In Ambata, water bombs are banned, but they spray each other with colored foam. The author’s description of celebrating in the streets and engaging in friendly foam fights is so descriptive you feel as if you are there. 

There is a wonderful mix of funny and sad in this book. The Old Man and the GMC is a hilarious tale of several encounters with a very bad driver, and another one of my favorite stories in this book. Just when you think you are safe, here comes the old man in the GMC again. The author also gives many sad but heartfelt tributes to his late parents. February 14, Lake Reflections, and My Takeaway are beautiful tributes to the author’s father. A Comfortable Silence, Time on the Line, and Memories of Mom and Mexico are among the tributes to his mother. 

Each story is touching, fascinating, or amusing in its own way. The author either takes the reader on an adventure to an amazing place or stirs the emotions with heartfelt stories of his life and family.

Overall this is an extremely well written collection, and the author’s descriptive ability is amazing. The reader can see the places Ty has been and they can feel his deepest emotions in these stories.

I would recommend this to anyone interested in well-told travel, adventure, and family stories.

4.5 stars. Rounded up to 5 on sites with no half-star option.

I received a free copy of this book from the author. I also purchased one on Amazon because I love to celebrate great writing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tyrel Nelson

Tyrel Nelson grew up in the southern part of the Twin Cities. He studied in Venezuela and Spain as an undergrad at the University of Minnesota. After earning a B.A. in Journalism and Spanish Studies, he received his School for International Training TESOL Certificate from the Experiment in International Living in Quito, Ecuador. Over the past fifteen years, Nelson has led many volunteer trips to Latin America and written a few nonfiction books, including his latest collection of stories, Travels and Tribulations. He lives in Minneapolis with his lively wife, bright-eyed daughter, and troublesome turtle.

Tyrel Nelson’s Amazon Author Page

LINKS TO BUY

Amazon US

Amazon UK

*If you buy the book(s), please leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, as well as anywhere else you review books.  Some people feel very daunted by writing a review. Don’t worry. You do not have to write a masterpiece. Just a couple of lines about how the book made you feel will make the author’s day and help the book succeed. The more reviews a book has, the more Amazon will promote it.

*Please click on the “share” buttons below and share these books with your Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress followers. A little bit of help from all of us will help self-published authors go a long way!

Book Review: Finding Sisters

Rebecca Daniels was adopted by loving parents and had little interest in searching for her biological family until much later in life. When she did begin her search, she used DNA testing and some of the various genealogical sites such as Ancestry.com to make connections with distant relatives and begin her search for the truth.

I found this to be a very interesting story of a quest to find biological connections and most especially the stories behind them. While DNA is incredibly helpful in finding lost family, it does not always provide all the answers, and investigation has to be done. Daniels provides a thorough history of her investigation, what she learned, and the connections she made along the way.

The story is not as full of emotion as I personally may have wanted. It is more analytical and detailed in nature. The author explains the reason for that and her somewhat emotionally detached personality, and it is perfectly understandable. Since I am a very emotional person and thrive on emotional connections, it wasn’t quite as fulfilling for me as it might be for others. But for those who love a good puzzle and want to learn more about genealogical research, this will be an informative and enjoyable read.

I appreciated the section in the back of the book that provides information about available genealogical sites and the many options they offer.

I downloaded this book on Kindle Unlimited, where subscribers can read it for free.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Daniels

Rebecca Daniels (MFA, PhD) Rebecca Daniels taught performance, writing, and speaking in liberal arts universities for over 25 years, including St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY, from 1992-2015. She was the founding producing director of Artists Repertory Theatre in Portland, OR, and directed with many professional Portland theatre companies in the 1980s. She is the author of the groundbreaking Women Stage Directors Speak (McFarland, 1996) and has been published in multiple professional theatre journals. In 2015, she retired from teaching and moved to the Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts where, in 2018, she completed the manuscript for Keeping the Lights on for Ike, a book based on her father’s letter home from Europe during WWII, which was published in 2019 by Sunbury Press. In 2019, she also served as literary manager and co-producer for Silverthorne Theater Company in Greenfield, MA. Lately, she has been working on two full-length plays and recently completed a memoir called Finding Sisters (published by Sunbury Press in 2021) that explores how DNA testing helped her find her genetic parents and other relatives in spite of being given up for a closed adoption at birth. 

BUY LINKS

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Self-Published Saturday/Grief Songs

Self-Published Saturday is my attempt to showcase works by self-published authors. Saturdays are dedicated solely to self-published/indie authors and their works. These authors have to do it all, from editing to cover design to marketing. Self-published Saturday (or SPS) is my effort to try and help with the marketing side of things as much as I can. I also need your help in the form of sharing this post with your social media followers to give these authors more exposure. Today I want to bring your attention to a wonderful book of poems by Elizabeth Gaffreau. Written in Tanka style, they are a tribute to her departed family members. Liz also agreed to answer some questions for us, so don’t miss the Q&A below!

BOOK REVIEW

Grief Songs is a beautiful collection of Tanka poems, accompanied by family photographs. Each poem pays tribute to a family member and often goes behind the scenes, telling us what is happening “beyond the frame.” It is a wonderful and unique look at a family, both good times and bad.

To anyone who is unfamiliar with tanka poems, here is a quick definition: Tanka poems are Japanese in origin. They are very specifically 31 syllables, 5 lines. The first line has five syllables, the second 7, the third 5, and the last two lines have 7. The first three lines are supposed to evoke an image, and the last two describe an action or emotion based on that image.

In Grief Songs, Gauffreau gives heartfelt tributes to her mother, father, and brother George. Some will make you laugh, and some will draw a tear. My absolute favorite is Angelic, which is aptly named. It is accompanied by the most adorable, and yes, angelic, portrait of two children I have ever seen. Liz and her brother George look like the most beautiful, well-behaved kids ever to sit for a portrait in the history of time. However, the the last two lines of the accompanying tanka read: “George had cried piteous tears/while I railed against my bangs.” This made me laugh out loud–maybe not so angelic! The bangs in question remind me of a lot of pictures in my own family album of home haircuts where the bangs ended up a little too short, usually right before a school picture. This is just one example of the way Gauffreau brings the photos to life with her poetry.

Gauffreau’s ability to weave poems, even poems with strict guidelines, into very descriptive stories is quite evident in this book. A Goodwill Love Story is a great example of that. She describes her parents’ meeting, courtship, and marriage in 5 lines, 31 syllables, and we see pictures in our minds that go far beyond the accompanying photo.

Grief Songs will inspire you to pull out your own family album, remember your lost loved ones, and think about the stories behind the photos. It is a beautifully constructed book of memories full of joy, admiration, and pain.

I received a pdf from the author and also purchased the ebook. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.

Grief Songs will be released tomorrow, September 26, 2021.

BUY GRIEF SONGS

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BOOK TRAILER

Q&A WITH ELIZABETH GAUFFREAU

Thanks so much Liz, for answering my questions today.  I am so pleased to review your book, and I’ve become a big fan of your writing.

Thank you very much, Bonnie. I’m delighted to be here. I enjoy following your book review blog. You are a voracious reader!

Let’s go beyond the bio.  Could you tell us a little more about yourself?.  What are your hobbies and interests outside of writing? 

I lived in Virginia for a number of years when my husband was in the Navy. While living there, he and I developed a keen interest in exploring historic sites and historic homes. The Colonial Parkway and Jamestown Island outside of Williamsburg were our favorite spots to visit. 

We also enjoy being out in Nature and exploring the back roads of northern New Hampshire and Vermont. After being away for so long, I was very surprised to discover how many dirt roads still remain.

Grief Songs is a collection of Tanka poetry that delves into the grieving process.  What was your inspiration for this book, and why did you decide on Tanka poetry?

I had no intention of writing a book of tanka until two things in my life converged. The first was reading Colleen Chesebro’s syllabic poetry blog and trying my hand at writing a tanka just out of curiosity to see if I could do it. Up until that point, I had resisted syllabic poetry as being too restrictive. I tried one poem and was pleased with the result.

Then, two months later, my mother died, leaving me the only person in my immediate family still alive. As I was going through our family photograph albums, poems started coming to me, and I soon had enough for a book. Writing the poems was a way to stay with my family just a little longer.    

Tanka poems have a very specific set of rules.  Did that inhibit in any way the message you wanted to convey in your book?  

The confines of the tanka form were actually a saving grace because I had to focus at the line, word, and syllable level. I found those confines comforting, like an infant being swaddled. 

Tell us a little about one or two of the poems that are your favorites.  

One of my favorite poems in the collection is “In the Wilderness,” inspired by a photograph of my mother snowshoeing in a state park outside Presque Isle, Maine. When she initially mailed me the photo, my immediate thought was, “Kay in an Alien Universe,” because she looked so small. The other reason the poem is one of my favorites is that readers have told me it prompted fond memories of their own mothers.

I’ve been a fan of your work since I read your book “Telling Sonny.”  You’ve also had many short stories published.  Could you give the readers a description of “Telling Sonny” and your other work, including any current project you might be working on.  Is another novel on the horizon?  

Thank you, Bonnie! I’m so glad you enjoy my work. Telling Sonny began with an odd little note from my mother after she had asked me to write a biography of my dad for our extended family. The note, on a sheet of lined notebook paper, read, “Elliott I. committed suicide and had a sister Dorothy.” It seemed such an odd juxtaposition of facts, I had to write a poem about it: “My Father’s Side of the Family.” 

However, the poem wasn’t enough to get that line out of my head. It rolled around in there for months, until the inciting incident for a novel came to me: Sonny’s mother put in the position of informing him of his father’s death because he had become an afterthought to his father’s family. The novel tells the story of how Sonny’s parents met and parted, all in the setting of small-time vaudeville. 

Much of my short fiction is set in Enosburg Falls, Vermont, where I grew up. Right after I graduated from high school, I got it into my head that I could be the Sherwood Anderson of Enosburg because no other writer had given the village a voice. Then, many years later, I discovered writer Hildreth Wriston, who was born there. Well! She wrote children’s books, however, so I’m telling myself I can still be the Sherwood Anderson of Enosburg. Youthful illusions aside, I’m planning a short story collection titled Enosburg Stories.

In the meantime, I’ve begun work on a novel about the last poor house in Vermont, which wasn’t closed down until 1968. I expect it will take me awhile, as I need to do a fair chunk of research.

Your first book, “Telling Sonny,” was traditionally published.  “Grief Songs” is a self-published work.  Tell us a little bit about the differences you have experienced between the two.  Do you prefer one over the other?

I would have to say that the experience of being traditionally published and the experience of self-publishing have both been an education at the School of Hard Knocks. I went through my undergraduate creative writing program, as well as my graduate program, at a time when the focus was on the craft of writing. The business of writing and self-promotion was not addressed in the curriculum and barely mentioned in passing by my professors. 

As many other authors have noted, even when traditionally published, the lion’s share of marketing and promotion for the book falls on the author. That being the case, I prefer self-publishing because I am in control of each phase.  

What advice would you give to new authors who are just starting their journey?

I will pass on the writing advice that my first writing professor gave us: Master your craft before seeking publication. I found that advice incredibly liberating because I was able to focus on what I enjoyed most without being distracted by rejection slips. 

Thanks again, Liz!  I so much appreciate you following my blog, and I am so happy I was introduced to your writing. 

  1. If you buy the book(s), please leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, as well as anywhere else you review books. This is very important to self-published authors.
  2. Please click on the “share” buttons below and share these books with your Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress followers. A little bit of help from all of us will help self-published authors go a long way!

Tomatoes and Memories

Photo by Doug DeMoss

(Story about my Mom and gardening begins in the second paragraph.) Believe it or not, this week wasn’t all about books! The tomatoes in my garden are coming in fast and heavy, and I did a lot of canning this week. I haven’t posted about canning much, but I do enjoy water bath and pressure canning when I get a chance. This week I had to take time off work to keep up with these tomatoes, and on two different days I put up about 20 quarts, 5 pints of tomatoes, and five half-pints of green tomato jam (lemony and delicious, I promise). I still have more tomatoes to can, so I’m thinking about spicy ketchup or tomato chutney of some kind. If you have any suggestions, let me know.

I have been canning off and on for years, but there is a story behind these tomatoes that make them mean so much to me. My mom was an avid and gifted gardener. She grew up in the mountains of North Carolina in the 1930s/40s with eleven brothers and sisters, and a Dad who was a farmer and logger. She helped out in the house, and and she also helped her Mom can the garden bounty in a washtub out in the yard over an open fire, as they did not yet have electricity. Mom moved to Cincinnati when she married my Dad and we lived in a poorer suburb, but she always had a magnificent garden. My whole life growing up we had garden vegetables in the summer and home-canned vegetables in the winter. I never thought much about it, but we were eating well, despite being a family of 10 in a three-bedroom house..

When my Dad retired, he and my Mom moved back to those North Carolina mountains and she had a garden for the 20 years they were able to stay there. She always had home-canned green beans, tomatoes, and sauerkraut, as well as other vegetables and fruits, and she was happy to give them to her kids. Consequently I still was able to eat home-canned vegetables more than most. When health problems became too much for them, they moved back to Cincinnati so my sister could help them. My Mom immediately started a garden and kept it up, even when her health began to deteriorate. My Dad had dementia and heart problems, and passed in 2019.

When my Mom died suddenly in March 2020, she left behind tomato seedlings she had already started. My brother gathered them and split them up between the siblings. I planted my share of those seedlings, and they didn’t do very well at all. However, I got enough tomatoes to get seeds for this year. This year my husband and I planted the seeds, and the plants have thrived! We call them Granny Tomatoes, because my mom always went by Granny to her many kids, grandkids, and great grandkids. We put in about 20 Granny plants and about 10 Romas, and the bounty has been plentiful, with many more still on the vines. So these tomatoes to me are more than just a garden treat. They are a legacy, one of which I am very proud.

Photo by Doug DeMoss

All of the tomato photos were taken by my husband in our tomato garden, as was the one I put on the main page of this blog.

The first two photos are my Mom (Dorothy Jenkins Zinser) at 16. The original version is on the left and a colorized version is in the middle. On the right is my Mom at almost 88, making sauerkraut in October 2019. She went to Heaven five months later.

Blog Tour and Book Review–The Girl In The Picture

*Book Review Near the Bottom of the Page

BOOK DESCRIPTION

As the newspaper clipping falls from the cardboard box Tegan takes in the woman in the picture: her chestnut hair, her eyes full of laughter, the way she nestles against the man beside her. And as she reads the words in the article, Tegan almost stops breathing. Was coming here a terrible mistake?

When Tegan’s family is torn apart by a terrible tragedy, she runs away in search of somewhere to keep safe from the past that haunts her, and the painful secrets she’s never told anyone. Arriving in Copper Canyon, Colorado, where wooden storefronts line the quiet streets and no-one knows her name, Tegan breathes easy for the first time in years. And when she grows close with Jack, another lost soul who won’t talk about his home, it seems she’s found the perfect companion to explore the mountain landscapes with.

But just as Tegan starts to think maybe safety isn’t a place, it’s a person, she notices the box of photos and newspaper clippings that Jack takes everywhere in the trunk of his car. Who is the woman in every frame? And why does she look so familiar…?

Tegan knows the only way to protect herself, and keep her dark family history locked away, is to discover more about the woman in Jack’s photos. But when she does, will the truth help her build a new life, or will it send her running once more?

An absolutely unforgettable and breathtaking novel about love, loss, and the secrets we’re all hiding. Perfect for fans of Kerry Fisher, Diane Chamberlain, and Kerry Lonsdale.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Melissa Wiesner


Melissa Wiesner is a night-owl who began writing novels about five years ago when her early-to-bed family retired for the evening. In 2019, she won the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart® Award in the Mainstream Fiction Category for her first novel. Melissa holds two Master’s Degrees in Public Health and Community Agency Counseling. Her day job is in Social Work where she often encounters people knocked down by hard times but who pick themselves up and keep going, just like the characters of her novels. Melissa lives in Pittsburgh, PA with her charming husband and two adorable children.

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BOOK REVIEW

If there is ever a book that is going to speak to me, it will be one about a road trip. I’ve been the queen of road trips many times in my past, so this book was like another trip into memories of my own as I read it. The best books remind you of scenes from your own life, and this one does that for me. The main theme of this book is home. Tegan is searching for a home for herself and her brother. Jack is desperately trying to get back to his family home as he flees horrific memories from his past. Thrown together unexpectedly, they are an unlikely pair. Tegan, abandoned as a child, grew up wanting to be a writer. Jack is a wealthy attorney who is somewhat over-protected by his family. On the road, they grow from annoyance to acceptance to friendship and more. They also find there are lessons they can learn from each other and adventures they can take together.

I loved the fact that we are immediately thrown into Tegan’s life in a dramatic way at the start of the book, and by the time she meets Jack, you will find your heart already racing. The meeting with Jack is a collision of coincidences that starts an unforgettable journey. The road itself becomes almost a character in the story, as some of the situations they encounter can only occur on a long-distance highway adventure. The differences in their lives and personalities help build strength, as Tegan encourages Jack to sway from his well-planned path, and Jack convinces Tegan to use a little more caution. The Girl In The Picture is an emotional and inspirational story of heartbreak, adventure, letting go, and the search for home. It was a beautiful read.

I received a free copy of this novel via the publisher, Bookouture. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.

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MY AMAZON REVIEW (“HELPFUL” VOTES APPRECIATED)

Blog Tour and Book Review: When We Were Sisters

*Book Review at the bottom of the page

BOOK DESCRIPTION

Two sisters who haven’t spoken for twenty years. One summer to bring a family back together.

Jayne Winters hasn’t seen her sister Charlotte since that last childhood holiday at their grandmother’s North Carolina beach house. Separated after that summer by their parents in a bitter divorce, Charlotte has never forgiven Jayne for not fighting to stay together.

So when Jayne discovers that they have both inherited the beach house, and that their grandmother’s last wish was for them to renovate it together, it feels like a miracle: one last chance to win her sister back.

At first Charlotte will barely speak to her. But slowly the memories of swimming races and storytelling in their attic bedroom looking over the sea start to break down the wall between them. With the help of photographs and letters left by their grandmother for them to find, the two women begin to restore not just the creaking mahogany staircase and the faded antique wallpaper, but their own relationship.

But then Jayne discovers that Charlotte has kept a heart-stopping secret from their past from her. Can she find it in her heart to forgive her sister and keep their grandmother’s dream of reuniting them alive—or are some wounds too big to heal?

An emotional and uplifting read about sisters, secrets and the family bonds that hold us together no matter how complicated they are, from the bestselling author of The Lighthouse Keeper. Fans of Mary Ellen Taylor, Elin Hilderbrand and Mary Alice Monroe will love this.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cynthia Ellingsen is an Amazon Charts bestselling author of contemporary women’s fiction. Her books feature heartwarming characters and strong family connections, often with a touch of mystery. The Starlight Cove series, her best-known work, is available on audio and has been translated into several languages.

Cynthia began her writing career as a screenwriter in Los Angeles and now lives in Kentucky with her family.

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BOOK REVIEW

Brought back together by their Grandmother’s will and last wishes, sisters Charlotte and Jayne, separated by divorcing parents when they were young, reunite to renovate her old beach house. As paint is chipped away and walls torn down, so are feelings and barriers, as they confront long-held secrets and memories. Their grandmother has hidden letters and remembrances throughout the house. Will her dying wish and carefully planned treasure hunt bring them back together?

This is a sweet summer read about sisters, secrets, and the importance of loved ones. The story flowed so well I read it in one sitting. It is a story of two sisters who have endured separation, rejection, and loss due to the actions of their parents. This novel emphasizes the importance of family, with all its complications and flaws. Full of heartbreak and secrets, but also love and hope, When We Were Sisters shows us how the strings that bind us with our loved ones are still present, even across time and distance.

Four and a half stars, rounded up to five on sites without a half-star option.

I received a free copy of this book from Bookouture via Netgalley. My review is voluntary.